Hurricane Sandy's Aftermath: Gowanus Business Owners Concerned About Toxic Sludge Left Behind After Canal Flood Waters Receded
(credit: google maps)
Due to their location on the banks of the Gownus Canal several businesses, most of them film production companies, have endured severe flooding during Hurricane Sandy. Though the three and a half feet of water have now receded from the Douglas Street block were they are housed, the owners of Canal Creatures, CW Films, Eastern Effects, Camera Farm, Scrap Paper Productions, Alex Sullivan Audio, Papa, and PMC Digital are very concerned about the toxic compounds and raw sewage that were mixed in the water and are now coating everything. Since the Gowanus Canal was declared a Superfund site by the Unites States Environmental Protection Agency, these concerns are understandable.
Here is a link to a video showing the damage and sludge left behind after the storm.
Kevin Howard, Production Manager and Co-owner of Canal Creatures Production writes:
"It is a horror show, with smells that we have never encountered before, even after years of living and working along the banks of the canal. NO ONE understands what the long-term effects will be of a SuperFund site having been stirred up and spread all over the Gowanus neighborhood. The many contaminants of this site have been resuspended in the flood water and are now in everything that has been soaked by the flood! Mark Bracamonte, Production Creature at Canal Creatures described the situation facing these businesses:
Our building has been sealed shut, and multiple film production business have been displaced and are now out of business. The EPA came down, only after many harassing calls from us. They came and took samples saying they would have results in 8 hours. That was 3 days ago. We still have no word.
There is ZERO neighborhood awareness about the potential health risks the area is facing. People are digging through contaminated trash, and debris with NO GLOVES and proper gear. IT IS SHOCKING THAT THE C TOWN GROCERY SUPERMARKET ON BOND AND DOUGLASS IS OPEN AND SELLING FOOD when we know they had the same toxic flood water as we did."Some of the businesses have fund temporary quarters at Film Biz Recycling, the Gowanus recycling/prop rental center, where they "will figure out [their] strategy for dealing with this immediate situation."
They have also shared their neighborhood story online on a Tumblr blog here: canalcreatures.tumblr.com
In an interview on the blog, Chris Hayes, principal partner at Eastern Effects states:
"We had a devastating flood like everyone else in the community. We have gotten no help from any government agency as of yet. No information that has been coherent as to what steps we should take, no one is telling us if the area is safe to inhabit, what we are being exposed to. No one has any answers. You kind of get the run around when we call anybody, I kind of feel like we have been left for dead out here, I mean, I have millions of dollars in inventory thatâs sitting rotting now because we cant figure out what to do about it, if Iâm even supposed to be in the building or not. Thereâs little snippets of information that are conflicting, so I feel like itâs every man for himself around here in this area. â¦.We built our business in this area, built up the community, and every one has abandoned us. Itâs heart breaking, thereâs no words that can express my sorrow that has happened to me and my partners here. Itâs just a bad situation."In the meantime, Councilman Brad Lander released this statement:"Many of you have contacted me with concerns about the Gowanus Canal, a highly polluted waterway, which flooded neighboring streets. I have communicated with EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck and NYC Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Carter Strickland. Thanks to both of them for making the time, and communicating quickly (with each other, and with me) about our concerns at the canal.If you live near the canal, do not touch standing water in the area, or any sediment or debris left by Gowanus flood-waters."At a press conference after Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Bloomberg and Deputy Mayor for Operations Cas Holloway seemed flippant about the dangers associated with the health risks from Gowanus flood waters. When asked about the health risks related to the toxic water, Cas Holloway, who is more familiar to the Gowanus community as the former head of NYC's Department Of Environmental Protection (DEP) and, along with Mayor Bloomberg, a vocal opponent of the Superfund designation for the canal stated: "Weâll make sure thatâ"we donât think thereâs any immediate danger to anybody and we donât think thereâs any issue.â
However, I just received an email from David Green, a science teacher, who raises the alarm on the dangers associated with the toxins. He writes:
"I am a science teacher with a background in Chemistry and Physics living in Brooklyn Heights.I saw your post on the flooding from the Gowanus canal.
The situation you describe is quite serious concerning the toxicological hazard from that particular flood. All the flooding in NY produced some hazard because of the sewage mixed with the flood water (particularly bad in red hook), but the Gowanus waters are leaden with Lead and Mercury, and dangerous volatiles too.
Sewage can be cleaned and sterilized with detergent and chlorine bleach, but if toxic water and sludge gets into a basement (or first floor) there is no way to clean it out completely. Wooden floors and even concrete absorb it and leave residues that cannot be removed.Note: In areas that have been contaminated with lead and mercury compounds Chlorine bleach (such as Chlorox) could have the unintended consequence of turning non soluble compounds into more soluble ones making exposure risks greater, so bleach should not be used in Gowanus flooded areas.
The long term dangers of these toxins are so great that I would recommend to all people who lived in a dwelling that got flooded by the Gowanus (basements and first floor apartments that got filled with this water), to notmove back in to their apartments.
This is even more the case for people who have children. The younger the child the more damage is done by heavy metal poisoning, and the damage is essentially permanent. This damage can take years to accumulate in the nervous system but once done cannot be remedied. It does not take much to cause damage- the amount a child ingests by putting their hands in their mouth is more than enough. Some of these chemicals produce continuous vapors which makes it impossible to avoid exposure.
I would strongly advise people with children especially babies and toddlers to not move back in, until the apartment is cleaned and then tested for these chemicals. If levels are above those set for safe exposure they should find someplace else to live.
I know that this could cause utter disruption of peoples lives, but disruption of living plans is better than permanent neurological damage."This is probably the best advice. The Gowanus Canal is a toxic brew on a good day. Hurricane Sandy's flood waters certainly deposited hazardous substances and sewage in businesses and homes on the banks of the Gowanus. I am frankly surprised that we don't have people in Hazmat suits controlling the situation.